Scientists awarded £1m to help women make childbirth choices

Group will develop an aid that can be used to guide discussion between pregnant women

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen have been awarded almost £1m to fund research looking into how pregnant women can be supported to plan their birth.

The National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR) awarded more than £973,000 to the collaborative team made up of scientists, clinicians, members of the public and those with lived experience of childbirth from across the UK and Ireland.

Over the next two and a half years, the group will develop an aid that can be used to guide discussion between pregnant women and health professionals during antenatal appointments. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a decision aid that will help pregnant women make an informed choice between vaginal or caesarean birth.

Widely used in healthcare settings already – such as choosing between cancer treatments – decision aids provide a framework for discussion and are purported to increase knowledge, support choice and reduce regret. No such aid exists for birth planning in routine maternity care, however. It is hoped this project will address this gap to enable maternity staff to conduct balanced conversations with women about their birth plan options.

Dr Mairead Black, senior clinical lecturer at the University, who is leading the research team, explained: “Childbirth is a safe and positive experience for most women in the UK, but it often involves intervention from doctors and midwives such as an unplanned caesarean section, for example. This can understandably be difficult for women, particularly those who were not expecting to need help, or those who are unaware of the possible risks.

“Also, there are women who may feel that they should have had more help to deliver their baby and lack of meaningful discussion around this can lead to disappointment, and physical or mental health problems – an outcome we see particularly in women from minority and under-served groups.”

In the last decade, national guidance from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence has stated that the risks and benefits of both vaginal and caesarean birth should be discussed with women during pregnancy to help plan their birth.

The process of developing these decision aids will include patient and public consultation, comprising representatives of women’s birth-related support groups, women with different pregnancy and birth experiences, and representation of other women’s views. It will then be tested in real-life in five UK maternity units.

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